“I had given up completely. I spent every second of the day thinking about how I could end things”
I grew up with a Thai mother and a Dutch father. I was bilingual and grew up in a household with two cultures. My dad worked full time and my mom stayed at home, which meant that I was actually always with my mom. I had a very good relationship with my mother and we also did a lot of things together.
Things actually started going wrong from the moment I went to preschool, which was when I was two-and-a-half years old. I told my parents that I didn't belong there and that I didn't want to go there anymore. My parents didn't understand this since I was just a toddler and they believed that toddlers belonged in preschools. That was until they came to the preschool themselves. They immediately realised that I was very different from the other kids. Where other children still babbled, crying about everything and understanding nothing about life, I was able to chat easily with adults, using full sentences, understanding more about life than one would expect from a child of my age. At that age I stopped talking. It turned out that I was afflicted with selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that occurs in children who are afraid of speaking in certain settings. I only spoke at home, but no longer at preschool, or later on at school either.
We moved house when I was in Group 2, so I ended up in a new school. Despite 'not talking', I quickly made new friends. I had no trouble making contact and I was able to show my friends what I needed. This school recommended that I take an IQ test, which subsequently showed that I was gifted. It then became clear to my teachers at school that I was perfectly able to talk, but that I was just too afraid to do so. From that moment on, while I was still in Group 2, they focused on getting me to talk. I started seeing an internal counsellor on a regular basis. We played special games that were specifically geared at getting me to talk eventually. That didn’t always go well because often, I realised what they were doing and did not want to cooperate.
Just as I was about to go to Group 3, it became necessary for me to talk. The school and my parents discussed the option of special education and, being a child, I also picked up on this. I saw the disappointment in those around me, and that was not at all what I wanted. So, I promised my mother that I would talk when I was five years old. My mother didn't really take this seriously at first, since an anxiety disorder such as this doesn't normally go away overnight, but it did! Precisely on my 5th birthday, I started talking to everyone again, both at school and outside of it. To everyone else, this step seemed like a great breakthrough for me and for my self-development, because I could now show everyone what I knew and what I could do, but to me, this was the first big moment of adjusting myself to make others happy.
The rest of my years at primary school went well. I had quite a few friends, my results were good, and I also came across as a happy child. School was not challenging enough for me though, so I needed many other extramural activities. I had many hobbies, including ballet, piano, gymnastics, drawing, swimming, and reading. At one point, I also started volunteering at a petting zoo. After school, I often stayed behind for a bit to help the teacher tidy up or mark some work. I had a very busy schedule for a child aged 8-10, but I enjoyed being able to do so much and that's why I was so grateful that this was possible.
Despite that 'perfect' life I led - parents still together, friends, hobbies, good results at school - I never felt completely happy. I noticed that I was different from the rest, in everything. For example, I was the only one who sometimes left the class to go and do extra assignments. I was the one who often did not have to participate in the lessons, and I could not talk to classmates about the things that were going on inside me. I was able to adapt myself perfectly (a little too well, in fact), but deep down, I just wanted to be like the rest.
When I went to secondary school, to the Gymnasium (grammar school), I hoped that it would be more fun and challenging there. I also hoped that I wouldn't have to adapt myself so much to my classmates there. Unfortunately, this was not the case. At primary school, I came across as that quiet, unassuming girl, who pretended to try hard and do her best, the girl who just hung out with her friends quietly. But when I got to secondary school, I wanted to stand out and be noticed! I was very lively and talked a lot, always chattering away to my classmates and teachers during lessons. Usually not in an annoying way since I was totally without malice and I continued to do my best at school, and also because I absolutely did not want to disappoint the teachers. I wanted to excel in everything: from being the 'perfect' student to the 'perfect' girlfriend and daughter, I wanted to be the best in everything I did, in my hobbies and later on, also in my (voluntary) work. At school, this also meant that I could not get high marks all the time. If I did, my classmates would think I was weird, perhaps even shut me out, so I adapted myself in this respect, too. My hobbies and work took up a lot of my time and they could have interfered with my school achievements, but I managed everything! I was a chameleon from head to toe and I did everything I in my power to look good, to please everyone, and to make those around me happy.
Things started to get a bit more difficult when I reached the fourth form. I was doing so much outside of school that my results started to suffer after all. At the same time, I didn't want to give up those hobbies outside of school either, because I wanted to be good at them, as well. I was virtually never at home and I was starting to feel drained and exhausted. People around me, such as my friends, started noticing this a bit, but that didn't stop me from carrying on. I didn't want to show that I couldn't manage because that would be a sign that things were going badly with me, and that would upset those around me, and that was something I wanted to prevent. At that point, I was no longer happy at all. I didn't understand what I was doing it all for. Life wasn't that great when you constantly had to adapt yourself, but I felt that it was my duty to do so. I started to get more tired and gloomier every day. I couldn't manage anymore, and I didn't want to either! At one point, I longed so much for peace of mind that I wanted to die.
I didn't really see any of this as a problem and I didn't need any help either. In principle, I was in control of everything and I thought that I could cut down my activities if I needed to. In retrospect, that was exactly the problem. I couldn't cut them down! I had to keep on doing all those things to stop myself from having to think about everything. As long as I remained active, those bad thoughts could not develop and take root, and I was doing 'just fine'. Where some people found their escape in drugs, alcohol or gaming so that they wouldn't have to feel things, I sought my escape in 'being busy'.
At the beginning of my final year at school, I had a meeting with my mentor, who said, 'I heard that you are very busy doing all kinds of activities outside of school. Isn't it getting just a bit too much for you?' At that moment, I just lost it completely. All I could do was cry and all my dark, depressing thoughts came pouring out. I told him that I didn't want to live anymore, and that I just didn't see the point of going on anymore. I couldn't handle my busy schedule but cutting out any of my activities wasn't an option at all. At that point, I was overwhelmed with my own emotions and thoughts. I had not opened myself like that for a long time and I didn't know what was happening to me. I felt deeply ashamed. I felt as if I were overreacting. I had 'the perfect life' and yet I was not satisfied. How many times have I heard people say, "I wish I were you?” And how often have I had to hold back my tears at such a moment and tell them that my life isn't so great after all?
After that talk with my mentor, I didn't feel any relief at all. I felt as if I had failed. I had given up and I couldn't take it anymore. I really just wanted to pretend that there was nothing wrong, and I just wanted to go to my mentor and tell him that things were actually okay, and that when we had our meeting, I had been feeling out of sorts and so I had overreacted. I just couldn't do it though. From that moment when I opened up, I remained open. I was constantly plagued by negative thoughts and crying fits, and these made me feel even more exhausted that I already was, which only made me feel more depressed. I also developed an anxiety disorder at that time. I could no longer function as I did before, and I felt that everyone could see that. I sometimes had a crying fit at school, and when I did, I felt so ashamed of myself. I started to suffer from panic attacks, which made me feel even more ashamed, so much so, that I was too afraid to go to class. Exams were a complete nightmare for me at that time because everyone had to be very quiet during exams, and everyone could hear you when you had a panic attack. So, I was too scared to go to exams, to lessons and then at a certain point, to school.
"I was so ashamed that I didn't want to be helped"
At school I got on well with a number of teachers, just as did with team leaders at work. My friends were always there for me, too, but I was so embarrassed that I didn't want to let them help me. After all, I didn't really know what the problem was. I was incredibly unhappy, but for no apparent reason, and that was exactly what I was ashamed of. School also insisted that I see a psychologist, and so I had several sessions with one that year. I had no confidence that I would ever feel happy again, especially since the psychologist was someone who didn't know me at all, or see me much, apart from speaking to me once a week. I had given up completely. I was constantly thinking of how to end it all, but at the same time, I didn't want to hurt or disappoint anyone by doing it either. I couldn't do it to my parents, my friends, or the teachers and team leaders who had all tried to help me. So, I tried to move on, despite my depression and anxiety disorder.
That year, I decided not to sit my final exams, but I was determined to pass them a year later, this time at a different school, since my old school did not offer VWO education. I had the whole summer holidays to rest up, and I believed that I'd be able to manage it the next school year. The problem was simply that I was exhausted from all my extramural activities and I didn't need any extra help for this.
That was a complete understatement! Due to the pressures and stress of the exam week, those negative feelings from the previous year surfaced again, causing me to slowly sink back into despair. I decided to inform school immediately about how I was feeling, and not allow things to get as far as they had done the year before. So, I approached the person who had also told me at the beginning of the school year that I could always contact him if I had any problems, but his response was not very positive. In his opinion, I was exaggerating and overreacting, and he said that it was just a matter of my getting used to the fact that things were not going that well yet. That was exactly what I was terribly afraid of, the idea that someone would think I was acting up and overreacting. I started to doubt myself and everything from the previous year flooded back, only it was much worse this time! I was really too scared to go to school anymore and I just didn't want anything at all. Those thoughts about death came back with a vengeance and I became afraid of myself. I knew that I really had to do something now, otherwise I wouldn't be around for much longer.
I searched for information about clinics and I came across Yes We Can Clinics. I had come across this clinic a year ago, when things were really bad too, but at that time, I didn't really want to admit that my problems were serious enough for such a clinic. This was actually not really the case this school year either, but I wanted to do everything I could to stop going to school and, also partly to protect myself. I told my mother that I wanted to go there, and she immediately called my father to tell him that I was going to fill in the application form. My parents also struggled with the fact that I didn't want to ask for help. I never talked to them about my feelings because I didn't want to scare or upset them, but not talking had the opposite effect because they had no idea what was going on in my mind and they saw that I was upset all the time.
After a few weeks, I had my intake interview at Yes We Can Clinics. After the interview, I thought that I would not be accepted at all because my problems were not bad enough. While we were waiting, I also told my parents that we might as well go home, and I said that I would just go to school every day and get my diploma. To my surprise, I was accepted and was due to be admitted on 15 February 2017. From the moment that I was accepted, I felt at peace. I didn't have to go to school because I wouldn't have been able to take my exams that year because I had been admitted to the clinic. All I had to focus on was that date. It wasn't even that I really wanted to to be there, but now I had a purpose in life, something that was important to me and something that would give me peace of mind.
Once I was in the clinic, I actually didn't feel at home at all. Many fellows describe their arrival at the clinic as coming to a place where they receive 'a very warm welcome and where everyone understands each other'. I felt as if I didn't belong there at all. I did indeed receive a very warm welcome, but the atmosphere was so busy and unpredictable that it terrified me. I knew it was also a clinic for addicts and at that time, I had an aversion to people who used drugs and alcohol. I didn't understand how anyone could become addicted to them. There was no one who looked depressed or scared, so I didn't see anyone who I thought could understand me. Despite this uncomfortable feeling, I decided to make the best of it and after a few days, I started to realise that it was not so bad there. During group sessions, and outside of them, most people were so honest and sincere about their thoughts and feelings that I began to realise that those 'junkies' were actually okay. I also recognised a lot of myself in them. Unlike most people, I hadn't had a very troublesome, distressing childhood, but we shared feelings of loneliness and fear, as well as our desire to escape.
The great thing about the clinic was that I had finally found the time and peace to think about my problems. I wanted to find out what caused my feelings of depression, because at that time, I still didn't quite understand what it was, and then gradually, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Writing my life story has particularly helped me. Unfortunately, due to fear, insecurity and excessive stimuli, I was not able to get everything I could get out of the clinic during those ten weeks, but looking back, I think that's fine. Recovery is not accompanied by a given recovery time: you can determine and set your own pace. For me, I started my proper recovery during aftercare, after I had returned to 'normal' life. Because I had released so many emotions during those ten weeks, had scrutinised my life and, at the same time, not been pressurised into 'having to perform', I felt a lot happier at home. Before I had gone to the clinic, I would explode at the drop of a hat, but that’s disappeared now. I was able to start building a life where I could balance my leisure time with my achievements.
All in all, I can say that I am doing well now, and I owe a lot of that to Yes We Can Clinics. Two years ago, I could not even look three days ahead, because I was not sure if I would still be alive then, whereas now, I can enjoy the things I experience and the people around me.